Germany arrests 4 teens suspected of planning Islamist terror attacks

Plans allegedly included Molotov cocktail and knife attacks against synagogues and churches in the name of the Islamic State

Illustrative photo of the city center of Dusseldorf, Germany, pictured on June 28, 2023. (AP/Martin Meissner)
Illustrative photo of the city center of Dusseldorf, Germany, pictured on June 28, 2023. (AP/Martin Meissner)

BERLIN — Four teenagers suspected of planning Islamist terror attacks have been arrested in Germany, authorities said on Friday, with churches or synagogues as possible targets.

Three of the suspects — two girls who are 15 and 16, and a 15-year-old boy — come from various parts of the western North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany’s most populous. They were arrested after a court issued warrants for them over the Easter weekend, prosecutors in the city of Duesseldorf said.

Separately, prosecutors in Stuttgart said a 16-year-old suspect is in custody on “suspicion that he was preparing a serious crime endangering the state.”

The three detained in western Germany are suspected of having declared themselves prepared to carry out an “Islamist-motivated terror attack” and planning such an attack, prosecutors said in a statement. They didn’t specify how advanced the plans were, and said they couldn’t give further details because of the suspects’ young age and the ongoing investigation.

They are in detention pending possible charges of declaring themselves ready to commit murder and manslaughter and preparing a serious act of violence.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s top security official, state Interior Minister Herbert Reul, said the investigation was prompted by the 16-year-old girl’s suspected plans to leave Germany to join the Islamic State group.

The synagogue in Cologne, Germany, September 13, 2012. (AP/Frank Augstein)

Chats on her cellphone, in which possible attacks in Dortmund, Duesseldorf or Cologne were discussed but also churches and synagogues in her hometown of Iserlohn, led investigators to the other suspects, German news agency dpa reported.

The young age of the suspects left Reul “speechless,” with the minister adding it posed a “huge challenge for society as a whole.”

Citing unidentified security sources, the agency reported that the teenagers hadn’t yet drawn up a concrete attack plan with a time and place.

However, Germany’s biggest-selling daily Bild reported that the four youths were allegedly planning to carry out Molotov cocktail and knife attacks in the name of the Islamic State group.

The report added that the suspects were also weighing whether to obtain firearms.

Germany has been on particularly high alert for Islamist attacks since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7. Germany’s domestic intelligence chief warned that the risk of such assaults is “real and higher than it has been for a long time.”

The country is also nervous about security breaches as it prepares to host the European soccer championships from mid-June to mid-July.

‘Danger remains acute’

Police had already foiled a suspected plot earlier this year.

Investigators in January arrested three people over an alleged plan targeting the cathedral in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

Bild reported that the suspects were Tajiks acting for Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), the same group believed to have been behind March’s deadly massacre in a Moscow concert hall.

“The danger from Islamist terrorism remains acute,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said at the time, describing the Khorasan offshoot as “currently the biggest Islamist threat in Germany.”

Islamist extremists have carried out several attacks in Germany in recent years, the deadliest being a truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 that killed 12 people.

The trailer of a truck standing beside destroyed Christmas market huts in Berlin, Germany the day after a truck ran into a crowded Christmas market and killed several people, December 20, 2016. (AP/Markus Schreiber, file)

More recently, two Afghans linked to IS were arrested in Germany in March on suspicion of planning an attack around Sweden’s parliament in retaliation for Quran burnings.

In October, German prosecutors also charged two Syrian brothers for planning an attack inspired by IS on a church in Sweden.

In December 2022, a Syrian-born Islamist was jailed for 14 years for a knife attack on a train in Bavaria in which four people were injured.

The number of people considered Islamist extremists in Germany fell from 28,290 in 2021 to 27,480 in 2022, according to a report from the BfV federal domestic intelligence agency.

However, in presenting the report, Faeser said Islamist extremism “remains dangerous.”

Germany became a target for jihadist groups during its involvement in the coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, and its deployment in Afghanistan.

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